Nowadays, diners are demanding more than just good food when they go out. They are getting tired of fancy fine-dining and jellies and foams and are looking for new, unique experiences that tantalise not just their taste buds, but all five senses. Sight, touch and smell can hugely influence our eating and drinking experiences, and restaurateurs have been using this theory for the past few years to make dining experiences not just about eating.
The age of immersive, interactive, inventive dining is well upon us and I am going to share six fantastically unusual eating out experiences in London. But first – what exactly is immersive dining?
Immersive dining is the new buzz-phrase in the restaurant business, with restaurants of all kinds -- ranging from fine dining establishments to fast-food pop ups -- taking steps to give their customers truly interactive dining experiences. Restaurateurs are coming up with unique ways to make customers feel completely involved in the food experience – whether it’s small interactions like Chefs serving your food instead of waiters (like they do at Adam Handling’s ‘The Frog’), or larger-scale events that have secret locations – immersive dining is definitely becoming more widespread.
‘Gingerline’ – known as the inventors of immersive dining – are a group who combine dining with immersive performances at secret locations across London. They fuse together art, performance, food, drink and design, taking participants on an unpredictable theatrical voyage that includes great food. Guests only discover the location one hour beforehand, and have no idea of the evening’s theme or menu until they walk through the doors. They can expect to experience anything from opera singers swinging from a trapeze, rollercoasters that take you to your table, boat rides through chambers and plucking food from the branches of a tree. At the end of each event, all diners are sworn to secrecy, so that everyone can experience the concept as a complete surprise. Their events often sell out within minutes and although tickets are quite pricy, (£55-70) it’s not far off the cost of dinner and movie tickets, and at least with this you get an experience like nothing else!
Another immersive dining experience phenomenon is ABQ’s highly-rated ‘Breaking Bad’ pop up bar in Hackney. This quirky concept has been hugely popular with over 65,000 ticket applications in 9 months – with such high demand, the original pop-up bar is now a permanent fixture. £30 gets you 2 hours in the RV which includes pre-measured ingredients and a recipe for making your own Breaking Bad inspired cocktail using molecular techniques. Props included dry ice, sherbet camouflaged as drugs, mortar and pestles, whisks and many more weird and wonderful ingredients. Whilst guests make their cocktails, ‘Cooks’ dressed in yellow jumpsuits wander around staying in character the whole time.
Blind dining at ‘Dans Le Noir?’ encourage participants to re-evaluate their approach to eating. Diners eat in the dark for a heightened sensory experience, where the taste, smell and texture of the food is the main focus. Selecting one of four colour-coded mystery menus: red (meat), blue (fish), green (vegetarian) and white (chef’s special), diners are served by blind waiters. It’s a really unique evening that has proved to be a very popular food adventure, leading to ‘Dans Le Noir?’ opening up Restaurants around the world.
With no shortage of unique dining experiences in London, diners now have the opportunity to become involved in much more than just eating the food that is placed before them on the table. Restaurateurs need to be aware of this rising trend adapt accordingly. One company who has successfully done this is ‘inamo’ with their contemporary concept that uses interactive dining to make their restaurant stand out from the crowd. The Asian fusion restaurants (located in Soho and Covent Garden) use an interactive ordering system, where food and drink menus are projected onto the table. Diners can set the mood, choose a virtual tablecloth, play games and see chefs working in the kitchen via the 'Chef Cam' function. Diners can even order taxis home via the system.
Another popular place where the restaurant is seen a stage is ‘The Medieval Banquet.’ Coined with the term ‘Dinner Theatre,’ diners are treated to a lavish four-course meal with historic authenticity. Located in London’s vaults, guests are entertainment by Kings, jugglers and other medieval characters while they eat.
A similar immersive dining experience is ‘Faulty Towers The Dining Experience.’ The popular TV show Faulty Towers now offers this interactive concept where diners can enjoy a three-course meal whilst watching and participating in a theatrical performance that takes place surrounding their table.
Immersive dining allows guests to reconnect with their inner child and provides them with an extraordinary and playful experience. From their huge popularity, which is spread mostly by word-of-mouth, it is clear that immersive dining is definitely a unique experience that customers love and Londoner’s can expect more of these immersive dining experiences to pop up all over the city, creating memorable moments for everyone. Being involved in the whole experience is a concept that is now widely sought after and diners and restaurateurs are realising that Restaurant’s don’t have to be dull — especially when you have a five- course meal and an opera singer to bring them to life!
Charlotte Besant - Recruitment Consultant, Perm Division
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